If you find that you feel tired, 'down', and depressed during the winter months, but find your sunny outlook returning with the spring, you may be a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sufferer. But what can you do to combat it?
What causes SAD?
Many people work long hours in office or factory environments where they are deprived of natural light. In the winter months, many workers leave their homes in the dark and return home in the dark too. This lack of sunshine and natural light can cause physiological problems.
Like all mammals, the human body is designed to respond to sunlight. Sunlight stimulates the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls your mood. If you suffer from SAD, a lack of sunlight can prevent the hypothalamus from functioning correctly, making you feel depressed and down. Sunlight starvation can hinder the body's production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin. It can also upset your body's circadian rhythm (your body clock). This leads to interrupted sleep patterns, poor appetite, general low mood and feeling tired all the time.
How is SAD treated?
If you think you may be suffering from SAD, it's really important that you consult your doctor before embarking on any treatment yourself.
Doctors may recommend antidepressant drug therapy, counselling and light therapy. Light therapy entails sitting beneath or in front of a special light box to top-up your natural sunlight exposure. Your doctor will be able to recommend a suitable, medically-approved light box for you to use.
There are a number of supplements that can be used to treat the symptoms of SAD as well.
St John's Wort
St John's Wort is commonly used as an herbal treatment for mild depression and low mood. The herb is known to interfere with the effects of some conventional drugs, so always consult your doctor before you take it.
Melatonin is a synthetic version of a hormone that is produced naturally by the body. Melatonin helps to regulate mood and can be effective in treating SAD.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, flax oil and seed, and walnuts. It's thought that omega-3 can help to boost brain function and combat depression.
There are many mind-body therapies that can help to relieve the symptoms of SAD and other forms of depression. These therapies are safe to use with all forms of medication.
- massage therapy
There are other actions that you can take to keep SAD at bay. Instead of staying in the house watching TV or sitting in front of your computer, make the effort to go out for a nice, long walk. Remember, even if it's not blazing sunshine outside, the sun's rays still penetrate the clouds and you will still benefit.
If possible, save a couple of weeks' annual leave for the winter and jet off somewhere warm and sunny. This will not only top-up your physical sunlight requirements, it will also give you something to look forward to, which in turn will lift your mood.
SAD is a very common and medically-acknowledged form of depression that occurs during the winter months of the year. If you think you might be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, don't suffer in silence; have a chat with your doctor to work out a suitable course of therapy.